THE BIRD, THE FINGER, THE LEGEND.

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With roots that can be traced all the way back to the days of ancient Greece– flipping the bird, as I like to call it, (or giving someone the finger) is the world’s favorite naughty gesture.  But there’s definitely an art to it.  The subtle nuances of the physical fingering, facial expression, and context of the act itself, can make it anything from phallic and vulgar, to friendly and fun-lovin’–sometimes even deeply profound.

Love it or hate it– this bird you cannot change.  Oh yes I did.

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Circa 1989, New York, NY — Marlon Brando distinguishing the middle finger of both his hands on the set of the picture The Freshman.  The “nonchalant double-fisted fuggetaboutit” flip.

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Circa 1954, USA — Director Elia Kazan on the set of his 1954 film East of Eden with Marlon Brando and James Dean. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Sygma/Corbis.  The “I’m not smilin’ for no camera, and you need to get yer own schtick, kid… oops, did you catch me flippin” you off” flip.

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Aug 22nd, 1957, Washington, DC — James R. Hoffa, heir-apparent to the Presidency of the giant Teamsters Union, as he appeared before Senate Rackets probers. Investigators reported that they have been told that former heavyweight champion Joe Louis “was paid $2,500 to sit in the courtroom for two hours” during Hoffa’s recent bribery-conspiracy trial. Hoffa, who was acquitted, told the committee: “If he was paid $2,500, he was not paid by Hoffa. I know nothing about it.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS.  The satisfying subversive “Something’s in my eye, your Honor…” flip.

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Sept 16th, 1976, Binghamton, NY — Vice President Nelson Rockefeller gives a crowd of young hecklers an upraised middle finger gesture at the Broome County Airport during a brief stop here while on a campaign trip with Vice Presidential candidate Bob Dole (L, Background, out of focus).  Rockefeller said he was “responding in kind” to the demonstrators. Love it. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS.  The “I could buy and sell you, you little smarmy toad” flip.

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July 31st, 1981, Fountain Valley, California, USA — Tennis star Billie Jean King, who recently admitted she once had a lesbian affair with her former secretary, deals with a heckler with a choice lecture and her middle finger. After the match at Los Cabelleros Racquet and Sports Club, Mrs. King said it was the first time a fan had bothered her publicly about the relationship with Marilyn Barnett since she confirmed the affair at a news conference. That burns, BJK. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS TheLet this righteous finger impale your cold, twisted heart and send you spiraling into the eternal flames of Hell, you have no idea how bad I want to put my hands on you” flip.

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Circa 1984, Appalachia, USA — Teenage Boy Flipping the Bird — Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS. The “you wishin’ yer girlfriend was purty as mine ” flip.

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Johnny Cash.  The “You try to put he screws on me brother, and I’ll screw right from under ya” flip.

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Circa 1968 — Frank Zappa giving someone the finger at a show — Image by © Elliott Landy/Corbis. The “you’re not worth my time, punk” flip.

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Dan Hicks – Image by © Herb Greene. The “curled palm, thinkin’ the f-word, crazy-eyed” flip.

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Grace Slick — Image by © Herb Greene. The “why’s it always hot when a chick flips you off” flip.

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Circa 1979 — Musicians Jeffrey Staton and Jeff Stanton leaning against a fence and flipping the bird. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. The “our marketing man says flip, so I’m flippin” flip.

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Circa 1967, Southhampton, NY — The 60′s rock group The Lovin’ Spoonful pose for a publicity photograph. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. The “You flip me off again you little geak and I’ll snap that finger off like a dry twig” flip.

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Circa 1965 — The 1960′s Folk-rock band, The Lovin’ Spoonful — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS. The “I’m the neat guy who flips the bird in all band pics” flip.

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Circa 1960s — Ike & Tina Turner — Image by © Tony Frank/Sygma/Corbis.  The “Black Power in yo face, honky” flip.

Circa 1974 — David Cassidy  – Image by © Henry Diltz/Corbis. The “Baby all grows up” flip.

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Circa 1973 — Danny Bonaduce (Danny Partridge) flips the bird while relaxing aboard a cruise ship. — Image by © Henry Diltz/CORBIS.  The “pervy before my time” flip.

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Chevy Chase & John Belushi — The “wish you were here” flip.

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30 thoughts on “THE BIRD, THE FINGER, THE LEGEND.

  1. The Chevy & Belushi flips is one of my favorite pictures of all time. Fantastic post and great research all around. You always get to the bottom of the silliest, yet most important shit.

  2. giving someone the finger is such a trademark of western culture. People here in Japan use their middle finger to point at things… like in Elementary school… to point at math problems on a chalkboard. Some kids get it, but I’m going to say they are in the .01% minority.

  3. Only TSY could make giving the finger so profound. Next time someone cuts me off on the highway I am going to make sure I have the right method before I go off.

  4. why in the world are there no badasses anymore?

    brando scares the hell out of me.
    the chase and belushi pic is completely amazing! so much charisma, excitement, mischief and just overall coolness. I was a touch overwhelmed.

    thanks a ton!

  5. But…but…what about all those pictures of 0bama (his own bad self) flipping off Hillary (and everybody else?)

  6. There are only really three words that Automatically punched into my mind when I saw this.
    God Bless America. And all the supporters of this web page. Moreover, to JP and yours…

  7. I don’t know, very few of your selections have the right combo of displayed finger, body posture and mouthed ‘F’. I just don’t get the George Carlin vibe on this one.
    Johnny Cash is the classic and the standard by which all are judged and seems like it was not included except as afterthought. You have done great work here with other subjects, but this is not your best.

    • Well wrench,

      What can I say? Guess I can’t please everyone all the time. I’ll try not to lose sleep over it.

      Anyone who knows me definitely gets that I’m a huge Johnny Cash fan. So much so, that the epic pic of Johnny at Folsom Prison you’re referencing was featured here on TSY not too long ago–

      http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/you-can-never-have-enough-cash-johnny-at-folsom-prison-1968/

      It seemed a little over-played, and I didn’t want to go the overtly obvious route– “combo of displayed finger, body posture and mouthed ‘F’…” so I left it out originally.

      Hope you’ll find it on yer’ heart to forgive me.

      Thanks for the feedback, and happy trails.

      Best,

      JP

  8. Zappa is actually flipping off his band. He would do it as a form of conducting to say he didn’t like what they were playing, and to change it. John Lennon was tickled by his ability to do this. Once, Frank and the boys were playing w/ Yoko. Yoko starts wailing (as she generally does), and the whole band flips her off. Great stuff.

  9. I love Ike and Tina. Ike looks like a black power super hero and Tinas got that worn down Jackie Brown look going on.

  10. I dunno. After lookin’ at all those birds a flyin’ it just came to me that it is a pretty stupid looking gesture. Sort of like repeating your name over and over, pretty soon you start wondering if you’re pronouncing it right. I’m starting to think that I’ll have to find some new gesture to communicate with other cell-phone obsessed drivers. The bird has flown…

  11. Too bad nobody ever photographed Dillinger flipping the bird. Maybe it’s because his finger was a machine gun.

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  13. The Chevy Chase pic is one of the best. That guy really had the best year round tan, and make me laugh just by looking at him. Fletch.. nothing more to say.

  14. I’ve been trying to track down a Robert Mitchum one, I’d swear I saw…

    If your superior search skills net it, I will be very impressed/grateful.

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